I have watched more porn than I like to admit. As an editor at Adult Video News, it was hard not to get swept up in awards fever. Imagine, a warehouse teeming with copies of the best of the best (presided over by a very handsome manager) and a duty to be conversant in the stars, scenes, and stories of the best films of the year. Porn pros took on the character of Hollywood greats. But I was too new in the job when my first awards season rolled around to know what I was talking about.
So, I raided the warehouse, guiltily loaded up my trunk with hundreds of videos and hoped I wouldn’t get pulled over on my drive home.
Not only did I watch endless porn. I reviewed it. And I edited hundreds of others’ reviews each month. Only when I became a conoisseur of the stuff was I able to read between the lines. This is what I learned:
1. Unusual synonyms for sex, sexual positions, body parts and for bedroom configurations. When you read ‘boobs’ for the 10th time in 400 words, you start to get creative. There were to be no ‘ta-tas’ in the reviews. I drew from botany, mechanical engineering, Victorian slang and articulate nonsense. Performers became actors became cocksmen and, my favorite reference from a particularly engaging writer, swashfucklers.
2. Who was bored with reviewing. You could tell a reviewer had hit that “Am I really sitting here looking at another crop of 18-year-olds doing the same thing as the last batch…and trying to think of a new way to say ‘screw’.” They commented on things like red shaving bumps or a stray bit of toilet paper stuck to bare lips. You could tell they liked a certain kind of woman (like the reviewers who only go for transexuals or MILFs). Everything else they’d review could have come under the title ‘Puppetry of the Pussy’.
3. The difference between generations. Yes, there was a divide betweeen those who believed in the new wave of arty hardcore and those who prefered the studio pictures made with aspirations to Hollywood features. (The major porn studios are run along the lines of the old Hollywood studio system.)
4. Who hated women.
Watching porn had been something I did when I was procrastinating. I’d google ‘porn’ (I had no idea what to look for and no idea how to articulate what I wanted to see). Windows popped up all over my parents’ computer, and I am still convinced that my watching of the preview videos for ‘Bang Boat’ killed their machine. There was ‘Bang Boat’ and there was TV1000, which showed hardcore feature films after 10pm. The moment of penetration (particularly in an Italian version of Snow White) drove me over the edge. That was enough then.
Now, I watched 20+ year-old school girls at an English riding camp in lesbian orgies, with their riding instructor, in pairs or on their own, and I was a little bored. Part of the pleasure of sex is its monotony, but the monotony gets boring on screen. Boredom soon turns into criticism.
Who genuinely loved their job? Who was sincere when they were speaking to the camera during the pre-coital interview? Which men loved being with women? Who only wanted to cause her pain? Who caused pain because s/he liked it? Whose framing concepts were unique? Was the sound quality good? Which blowjobs scenes looked like the deep-throat equivalent of a pie-eating contest? And the most imporant question: if it took me fifty hours of watching the finest offerings of the year to really get to grips with what I was looking at and two months of editing the leading source of news on the industry, how do non=porn professionals navigate the wilds of pornography? Yes, we have Fleshbot.com and Gram Ponante, but for these you have to be inclined to be informed about xxx in the first place. For most of us, it’s probably down to random keyword searches on PornHub and a grab-bag of often anonymous scenes.
Aside from being able to discern genuine pleasure and playfulness in even the most hardcore scenarios, I began to notice what my fantasy life looked like.
When I watched porn, I watched from the perspective of the male performer. I was thrilled by her petite body, his incredible bulk. The idea that she may be too small to handle him. I never thought of his orgasm. I wanted him to fill her with his flesh and that was enough. The anticipation of penetration and the first thrust was my still tipping point.
I thought little of the woman. (It was indicative of where I was in my life.) I wanted to see if she could endure. This was the shape of my private fantasties for years, as well as the nature of the pornography I picked out. And my bedroom life? I guess you could call me frisky and a serial monogamist, guided by lust an a casual way of falling in love, thinking little of physical attributes and everything of the moment.
Then I fell in love. The kind of love that makes you want to bear children and carry his name. The part of the scene that flicked the switch of fantastic pleasure shifted subtely. It moved past the moment of penetration and closer to climax. I imagined union.
I no longer wanted to see theatrical, petite women who fucked for sport. I wanted to see a woman take a man and not notice if mountains crumbled to the sea. The woman became more important. She became a goddess, holding the secret of life inside her, untouchable, yielding. For the first time, I imagined that one day I would have my partner’s child. The ritualistic dance of desire and climax moved me. (Love wasn’t what changed where I was in my life, but it was when my libido kicked back into gear.)
In this woman’s role, my fantasy called for an baroque representation of a ‘woman’ as an object of desire. In my private life, I understood what it meant to make love. The pornographic representation of this awareness was an orgiastic scene of up to 7 men who are pulled by desire toward one glistening woman. His orgasm (and journey to orgasm) took on new meaning.
In Susie Bright’s forthcoming memoir, she writes beautifully about how we must get to know and accept both our erotic lives and our erotic fantasies. What happens in the mind may be something that you will never desire in bed. What turns you on in bed may not be what you want to imagine while masturbating.
And this is where porn comes in. Our sex lives and consumption of erotic material tells us so much about who we are as people and how comfortable we are with the role of sex in fantasy and in real life. I look forward to observing how my fantasies change as my role in life changes. Now, all I need is sincerity and flesh. Will I one day be captivated by the atmosphere of an Eon McKai art-core film? Will a Wicked hardcore dramatic feature about love and infidelity float my boat? And when (if) these things turn me on, where will I be in my life then?
If you want to navigate a career in the porn industry, it seems necessary to ask these questions, to confront yourself with things you like and don’t like, to take a stand against what you find unethical. Sexuality, gender relations and fantasy are active factors in daily decision-making. (Only in the rarest instances did I include the word ‘cunt’, ‘whore’ or ‘slut’ in the reviews.) This becomes part of your tool box for success and keeping your identity (fantasy life and all) in tact. Outside the industry, these questions are no less pressing, but are easily ignored.
This post of part of the Lady Porn Day project.